Female doctors ‘financially penalised’ for marriage and children: study

By Siobhan Calafiore

4 Apr 2023

Female doctors face an additional financial penalty – on top of the gender pay gap – by getting married or having children compared with their male colleagues, US researchers have found.

They estimated among doctors with children, the male-female gap in earnings over a 40-year career exceeded $US 3 million, more than double the gap for doctors who were single.

The “additional earnings penalty” primarily came down to female doctors working fewer hours relative to male doctors, the researchers noted. 

Their retrospective cross-sectional study used data from 95,435 doctors aged 25-64 (36% female, mean age 44) responding to a census-run community survey conducted in the US between 2005 and 2019.

Female doctors were more likely to be single than male doctors (19% versus 11%), and less likely to have children (53% versus 58%).

Overall, average annual earnings among male doctors were $US 91,000 higher than those among female doctors, said the research team, led by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in New Hampshire.

Male doctors also worked 4.4 more hours per week on average and were more likely to be self-employed than female doctors (25% versus 15%).

They also earned between 21-24% more per hour.

The male-female gap in hours worked was 1% for single doctors, 7% for married doctors without children and 18% for doctors with children.

The researchers noted the male-female earnings gap grew with age.

Their findings showed the difference was negligible for doctors younger than 30, relatively small for doctors aged 30-34 ($US 16,733, or 12% higher for male doctors), but then rose to $US 74,345 (27% higher for male doctors) at age 35-39, at a time when raising children is common.

The earnings gap peaked at $US 100,129 (29% higher) at age 50-54.

Further, their calculation of the lifetime earnings gap was $US 1.6 million for doctors who remained single, $US 2.5 million for married doctors without children and $US 3.1 million for doctors with children.

“Marriage and children were associated with an additional earnings penalty for female physicians, which is primarily due to fewer hours worked relative to male physicians,” they wrote in JAMA Health Forum [link here].

“Our findings align with a well-established body of evidence showing that there is a significant gap between female and male physician earnings that has persisted over time.”

They concluded: “As the proportion of female physicians increases over the decade, educators and health care delivery systems must assess the structure of physician work and pay to ensure equity.

“Addressing the barriers that lead to women making less per hour and working fewer hours could achieve the dual aims of reducing male-female earnings disparities while expanding the effective physician workforce.”

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